The thing I never talk about: Thanksgiving, and eating disorders

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and for a lot of people, it’s a day of stress, struggle, fear, and self-hate that has nothing to do with our relatives. For people struggling with an eating disorder, the holidays – from now through Christmas – is the hardest part of the year.

You’re not alone.

I have had an eating disorder for more than twenty years. I don’t know exactly when it started, when I went from uninformed choices to bad habits to an actual disorder, but I realized I was doing unhealthy things, sometimes things I couldn’t control, when I was around 20 years old.

I’ve been thinking about this blog post for months. A couple of years ago, I decided to seek help for abnormal and unhealthy eating habits. I’ve had issues with food, beginning with not having learned what healthy eating was in the first place, all of my life. When did recovery start? When I wanted to change? When I got help? When I started making changes? I’m not certain I know.

I do know that I’m not recovered yet. Maybe, like alcoholics and other addicts, I will never be “cured”, only managed. As long as I’m healthy, that would be okay with me.

I am getting there, though. Gaining weight this year is actually, oddly, proof that I’m recovering. I’ve stopped doing all the things I did to lose weight, most importantly I’ve stopped thinking that not eating is the best way to lose weight. Most people think of extreme calorie restriction and anorexia as something you can easily identify: those girls who weigh 80 pounds and hide food in dresser drawers so their parents won’t know. That’s a face of it, certainly, but in adults it’s often unnoticed. We don’t have to hide food because no one is monitoring us. We can simply not eat.

Restricting is about control. Mix it with binge eating, which is usually about satisfaction, literally filling an emotional void with food, and you get what most people will write off as yo-yo dieting. It must be that I was trying to healthy (when I lost weight) and then stopped trying (when I gained it. Even thin, I wasn’t being good to myself. I’m healthier now, at my highest weight ever, than I was during the rest of my adult life.

I can say all of this now because I’m over the harder part. I’ve learnt to stop restricting, stop binging, stop weighing myself constantly, stop hating myself, stop hiding all of it. It took years. It took help, and support from someone who loves me no matter what.

The next step for me is taking the hearty, healthy food I eat now, and find the portion sizes that are right for my body. I overeat now, not too much, but enough that if I carried on the way I am, I wouldn’t lose much fat. As I get older, I worry about my knees, my heart – I worry that my fat is keeping me from activities I want to do, and of course I know it makes other people judge me. I want a career that isn’t marred by employers who equate overweight with lazy or unmotivated.

I’m ready to try but I’m nervous, too. Restricting my food at all makes me tempted to restrict it a lot more. It’s tempting to “just lose the weight fast, then worry about keeping it off”. It’s tempting to ditch the rich, flavorful meals we eat now for diet foods which don’t have calories, or nutrients, or the feeling of satisfaction that tells your brain it’s actually full. Or skip meals entirely. Make a game of it, a challenge, see how long you can go without eating, how little food you can eat, how fast you can force down the dial of the scale… Count every calorie, every step, every time you thought about food. And after a week of that, after dropping several pounds, isn’t it nice to “take the night off” and eat pizza, soda, snacks, anything and everything you’ve been craving? You can go back on the diet again tomorrow…

I’d rather be overweight than go back to that life.

I’ve told myself that a million times but for once, I know that I mean it.

Tomorrow, we’re cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner. It’s just the three of us, like it had been the last couple of years, and we’re making only the things we love best. I can’t promise that I won’t question my choices or feel regret that I indulged. I can promise that I’m going to focus on eating what I think I’ll actually enjoy, in a healthy portion, without restricting or binging. I’ll get some exercise. I’ll take it one day, one meal at a time.

Snokone/Boskone Recap: Escape from Blizzardopolis

We were all set to leave for Boston bright and early last Friday morning, when I got a 6 am email that my son’s school was closing for the day. The morning ended up being a mix of looking for a sitter, enjoying a comfortably-paced breakfast at home with the whole family, and worrying about which panels we’d have to be late to. (For the record: I missed the “Food in Fiction” panel, and the SFF Poetry panel.) I managed to get a hold of someone, we packed up the car, and had an easy 5.5 hour drive to the convention. It seemed the worst part of the trip would be out of the way at the very beginning.

There was just enough time to drop off luggage, pick up badges, and for me to down a large Manhattan, before the 8 PM panel “Father, You Made Me”. Well-moderated, smart people saying smart things. Then Don‘s reading, which was attended by multiple people, even though the room was… a boardroom. Complete with a gigantic oval table that we all sat around. But he made it work, and read both previously published and in-progress work. After that was food — love the casualness of that Irish-style pub, and thoroughly enjoyed what turned out to be the only meal we ate in Boston — and sleep.

Saturday started off right in the hotel room with pour-over espressos and paczki we brought from home. Then, a tour of the art show. I don’t remember doing that last year, but there was an amazing private collection of 20th century SFF-related art, including a lot of original book cover art that I adored. I also was given a beautiful pair of huge garnet earrings that made me feel pretty right before my noon reading, and slightly distracted me from being nervous. I ended up reading “Annabelle Tree“, and wasn’t entirely prepared for that request, so while I read it through just fine, I have to admit that I teared up at the end. I hadn’t read the story in a long time, and I don’t think I’d ever read it for an audience before, so it was a little bit new to me again. I’m glad I got the opportunity to experience it in that way.

Because of my reading, I missed the beginning of “Finding Diverse Fiction”, but it was worth attending just the second half. I was pleased to see that the panelists themselves were a diverse group of people, and again, it was a group of smart people saying smart things about finding and creating diversity in the work we read and write. I wish I’d have been there for all of it. I spent an hour prepping for the rest of the day: making plans to meet up with folks, record an audio interview, and spend several hours finishing up the newest issue of Lakeside Circus so I could roll that out. (I had 7 hours free before my 10 PM panel on Jodorowski; plenty of time!) The panel — Non-Western Folklore and Fairy Tales with Ken Liu and Max Gladstone — was so much fun. It was just the three of us, but as I later declared on Twitter, you can easily have an amazing panel that’s just Ken and Max in conversation with each other. I am comfortable admitting that I added useful things to this particular conversation, but seriously, if you want intelligent fiction written by incredibly intelligent, well-read people whose interests include non-Western fiction, check out their work. I know Ken well from working with him several times before, and Max I’m getting to know from having attended some of the same conventions and being on some of the same panels; they’re authors I can trust the passion they have for literature to their work. Or panels. Or the bar. Or the one time we stayed up late drinking in the hallway at Readercon and listening to Max explain how social-status drink buying works in China.

Um. Right. Back to Boskone. The plan was, go to Fran‘s reading at 3 PM, then get a proper meal, do an interview, be a bit social, and buckle down for a chunk of editing/formatting/web page building work before a late dinner and then the JODOROWSKI PANEL. (I love Jodorowski’s work, I suggested this panel, and I knew at least one other panelist had spent the last several weeks prepping for it the way that I had.)

None of these things happened.

While in Fran’s reading, I got a text from my sitter asking if we’d be able to be back by Monday morning, or whether the winter storm we knew about — which had morphed into a blizzard without us knowing about it — was going to strand us at the hotel into Tuesday. Note: we’d planned to leave Sunday after my last panel, like usual. Checked the weather reports, and within a few minutes realized that our choices were to leave right then, or plan to stay until Tuesday, because travel on Sunday would be “nearly impossible, and life threatening” given the 50mph winds and white out conditions now forecasted. Monday was expected to be less snowy but actually colder. With work and a child at home, we decided there was no choice but to leave, and were out of the hotel 30 minutes later. And… much snow-covered driving ensued.

But don’t feel bad for me. Thanks to the wonderful programming committee, I got to have a great time at Boskone 52, even though I was there for less than 24 hours, and let me just tell you this: the best Valentine’s Day present ever might just be finding out who’s got your back during a blizzard.

Note: “Snokone”, name for the snowy alt-version of Boskone, was coined by Fran Wilde.


Writing Process Blog Tour

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam invited me to join this blog relay on writing craft. Her post is here.

1. What am I working on?

I’ve got three big projects right now, as well as a couple of short stories I need to revise, and my editing work. I’m concurrently writing two novels and compiling a mosaic novelette of SF poetry. The working titles are:

  • Sonnets for the Rocket Queen – 144 Shakespearean-style sonnets about love, loss, and space ships.
  • Shades of Gray – first person, female protagonist, modern day, ghost story. Urban fantasy without the tramp stamp. Miéville noir with a female lead.
  • Caudal Ballad – third person PoV, multiple protagonists, surreal/interstitial. Borges meets Nabakov, with traces of Burroughs and Poe.

Shades and Caudal are set in the same universe, same town, at the same time, and explore a series of events from very different perspectives. They don’t need to be read together.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

No one else has read what I read, in exactly the same way, or lived my life, or shares my exact sense of humor. That’s true of all of us. For that alone, I’d like to think what I write is different. When you add to that mix that I write because I have a story in my head I want to get out — instead of for fame, money, respect, or notoriety — and that if I’ve read the same story elsewhere I no longer want to write it, then what I do produce fits into a small space occupied by not much else.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Have you ever read something and thought, “Oh, yeah, that is true”? You learn some fact you didn’t know before, but based on everything else you know, this thing makes sense. I love to read fiction that has that resonance of truth, and I don’t want to put any of my own writing out into the world unless it speaks to me in the same way. It has to answer a question, or provide a viewpoint which clarifies a confusion you didn’t even know you had. I want to feel more alive, more knowledgeable, when I’ve finished a piece of reading. Even if the knowledge is sad.

I’m also interested in mixes of genres or the places where multiple genres lean against each other. I think that when you work in solid, simple, mainstream, genres, whether it’s literary or epic fantasy or hard science fiction, you’re more likely to be retreading the same old ground. There are stories which slip between the cracks, tales that don’t quite fit, and are therefore told a lot less often. Those are the stories I want to tell.

4. How does my writing process work?

My current writing process was developed over years of failing to produce consistent work. Ideas, I have. Ideas are easy. They’re everywhere. I’m lucky that my subconscious, what I call my lizard brain, is strong enough that I can decide I want to work on a story, spend a little time thinking about it, and then move on to another task, another piece of writing. Meanwhile, my lizard brain will keep writing, until one day, it taps me on the shoulder and says, “Here you go.”

The hard part is always writing it down. I’m chronically overbooked, overworked, and exhausted. I don’t have time to read for pleasure, be with my family the way I’d like. So, how do I find time to write?

I carefully manage what I have, and the rest I need, I steal. The managing comes from being organized — two white boards at home, online spreadsheets, Field Notes books in my bags to scribble down thoughts, post-it notes on the wall, documents saved to Drive so I can work on them anywhere. I manage my time like I structure my writing, so I’ve got spreadsheets for how much time is spent on each freelance project, to do lists, and even my daily word count.

Doing that means I’ve got everything I’ve written down whenever I want it, and knowing whether I’ve spent enough time on other projects that day tells me how much I have left for writing. If it’s not enough to get out the part of the story I’m ready to write down, I take what I need from other places. I write instead of going out. I write instead of getting to bed on time. I write on my lunch breaks, before work, while watching tv, during dinner. Not all of those times every day, but whatever I need to make sure that every day, I am writing.

I’m a better writer because of it, and I think that I more fully enjoy the times I spend with my family, partner, friends because I know what I give up to write, and what I give up to be with them. I cherish everything. To me, making time to write feels like having it all.

* I was supposed to tag two more writers who’d then complete this meme and pass it on. Instead, I am tagging all of you. Write your own posts, and leave me a comment with the link so I can go read yours too.


We Have Always Dreamed In Poetry – Part 1 (beginning of recorded history through those dramatic Romans)

Last time, I talked about the earliest recorded speculative fiction poem. Before the end of the month, I want to talk about  where poetry has ended up, and where it’s going. To get there, we need to have at least a basic idea of what poetry has explored between 2000 BCE and the early 20th century. 4000 years of poetry in a singe blog post?

Actually, we need to start farther back. And, this is going to take more than one post.

Speculative fiction – the stories we tell which have not happened in our reality and contain some element of fantasy – has always been a part of our recorded literature. From the very beginning, we imagined, and then expressed those visions. But it is important to be aware that Western culture prejudices the reader to think of stories of certain gods and epic events as “myth”, while simultaneously promoting certain other gods and epic events as “gospel”. If we want to look at all of these stories as fiction, then it could be said the earliest fantasies in literature were created by Enheduanna, an Akkadian princess who served as High Priestess of moon god Nanna during the third millennium BCE. She lived in the Sumerian city-state of Ur, is one of the earliest women known from historical record, and is the earliest known author and poet.

Except – Enheduanna wrote hymns to her god. She exalted her worship in poetry and song. True, her work was revered. Copied and saved by kings, remembered, and revised 4500 years later*. It was beautiful, but to her and many of the people who came after, it wasn’t fiction. We cannot include it in this discussion without dismissing her beliefs, so we’ll mention her as a forerunner to SFF poetry in that she was an early creator of poetry, but we need to come forward in time a little to find what we’re looking for.

Around 2000 BCE, we find the oldest known love poem, a Sumerian tablet recording a “risque ballad” where a priestess asks her king to take her to bed, and then compliments him afterward. It’s possible that this was actually a performance piece instead of a personal note, and scholars have argued that the people represent gods, are taking part in seasonal fertility/agriculture rituals, and so on. Since it’s either romantic or religious (or both) it’s like the hymns of Ur: we can see the beauty in this work but can’t consider it fiction.

“Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor” is different because it is a narrator’s account of one person telling another person a story, and the storyteller recalls an event which could not have happened** in order to deliver a moral lesson.*** At most, it’s a parable or metaphor, but contemporary people seemed to have considered it entertainment (therefore, fiction) so it’s safe for us to do so as well. Continue reading

Celebrating National Poetry Month the SF way: In the Beginning

April is National Poetry Month in the United States, and I’ll be celebrating one of my favorite forms of writing by talking about speculative fiction in poetry. I’ll be exploring themes and structures, poetry and poets I admire, how to bring SF/F/H elements into poetry effectively, and sharing my own work. I’ve been cobbling together these blog posts for a couple of months now – on lunch breaks, between writing or editing other projects – so I’m excited to finally see them publish to my website. Please feel free to comment, ask questions, or suggest work you think I’d like to read.

Where do we start? With history, of course.

Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets throughout the United States band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.

Though a recent creation, this “holiday”, poetry has been a vital part of American culture since before there was an America. Poetry has existed longer than writing, longer than what we think of as culture. It is a living, breathing, exhalation of humanity.

Speculative fiction – that umbrella term which covers fantasy, science fiction, horror, slipstream, surrealism, and so much more – has existed just as long. The oldest known spec fic poem is “Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor”, a Middle Kingdom Egyptian text about 4000 years old. In it, a sailor nervously confides in a servant that he thinks the king will kill him for sinking a ship. The servant tells his master a story to reassure him: previously, the servant had been a sailor, and sunk a ship, and washed up on an island ruled by a giant serpent. This serpent spoke to him of family, gave him gifts, and inspired him to return home, where the sailor told the king his story and was considered a hero.

This is the basis for most of the storytelling which came after: the accidental quest, the mythic beast/figure dispensing wisdom, the hero’s journey. We find this framework too, the storyteller being presented in a contemporary setting, and then telling a story about someone or sometime else within the tale we’re reading or listening to. Like Scheherazade’s creator, the author of the ancient servant’s tale embeds a narrative into the frame story, which ends in a moral lesson. It’s a structure we see in both fiction and non-fiction, over and over again, for the next the four millennium, with great success. (Read the Bible? It’s in there, too.)

The moral here? The serpent tells how he lost his family when he was off adventuring:

It happened when I wasn’t there —
burnt when I wasn’t among them!
Then I died for them
when I found them as one heap of corpses.

If you are brave, be stout-hearted,
and you will embrace your children,
kiss your wife, and see your house.
This is better than anything.

Since today I got to kiss my man, kiss my child, and feel both safe and loved, I can tell you – the serpent was right.